Hedy Bohm had just turned 16 when the Nazis packed her and her parents onto a cattle car in May 1944 and sent them from Hungary to the Auschwitz death camp in occupied Poland. After three days and nights in darkness, the doors were flung open. “An inferno,” is how she remembers the scene she saw.
“The soldiers yelling at us, guns and rifles pointed at us,” she recalled. “Big dogs barking at us held back on their leashes by the soldiers.”
One of the black-uniformed men on the ramp was likely SS — the paramilitary organisation under Hitler — guard Oskar Groening. Today 93, he goes on trial on Tuesday in the northern city of Lueneburg on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder. Two of those deaths were Bohm’s parents.
Groening’s trial is the last currently scheduled for a former Nazi and some 50 Auschwitz survivors will attend proceedings as co-plaintiffs or witnesses.
Bohm is today 86 and lives in Toronto where she moved after the war. She will testify as a witness, although she doesn’t remember Groening.
Groening has openly acknowledged serving as an SS non-commissioned officer at Auschwitz, though denies committing any crimes. His memories of the cattle cars packed with Jews arriving at the death camp are just are vivid as Bohm’s.
His job was to deal with the belongings stolen from camp victims. Prosecutors allege he was charged with helping collect and tally money that was found, which has earned him the moniker “the bookkeeper of Auschwitz” from the media.
The case will also test the legal theory that since the sole purpose of a death camp was murder, anyone who could be proven to have served there could be found guilty of being an accessory.